We Started as a Mission
The West Morris Street Free Methodist Church began as a mission in an abandoned church on the corner of South Ray Street and Warren Avenue in Indianapolis. The mission preached the message of salvation and holiness as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists. Many people came to faith in Jesus Christ at the mission.
The devastating flood of 1913 forced the mission to look west to the "hill" for a more accessible meeting place. A woodshed on the corner of Tremont and West Ray Street formed a temporary meeting place in the fall of 1914. Attendance reached nearly 100. The church rented a store on the Northeast corner of S. Pershing and W. Wilkens (across from our present youth pastor's parsonage) for $20.00. The merchandise shelves served as a convenient place for sleeping babies. The work continued with no appointed pastor. On Thanksgiving of 1915, the little mission served 176 dinners to the poor and shut-ins.
The group purchased a lot across the street (present parsonage) for $200. Bill Buckler, a converted bartender, and his wife held the meetings.
Becoming "Second Free Methodist Church"
In need of a pastor, the mission learned of the First Free Methodist Church, a church on the East Side of town that still exists at the same location today. The wife of the pastor there, H.E. Perigo, came to be the first pastor of the new church. They united with the Free Methodists and organized the "Second Free Methodist Church" in 1916 with 12 charter members. A basement was dug on the empty lot and by 1923, the completed church was dedicated.
The church was blessed with gifted and committed leadership. In October of 1945, under the direction of Rev. J. C. Black, the church purchased two lots on Pershing and Morris Street for $5,500. On April 6, 1952, services began in the new building (the existing chapel and offices to the east end of the present complex). Following twin pastors, Vernon and Verdon Dunckel, the Sunday School marched from the old building one block south to the new.
Renamed West Morris Street Free Methodist Church
On July 28, 1952, the Society changed to the present name – "West Morris Street Free Methodist Church."
The church burned in 1967 and was rebuilt in February of 1968. The present sanctuary with its seating capacity of 1300 was completed in 1975.
West Morris Church has "mothered" three churches – the Mars Hill Free Methodist Church at 3900 W. Farnsworth, the John Wesley Free Methodist Church at 5900 W. 46th Street, and recently, the new "Comunidad Cristiana" fellowship, which meets at the West Morris Street church.
West Morris has nurtured many who are active in ministry around the world and who are now serving in many different denominations.
Our desire is to continue in the spirit of that from which we began – to be a place where the people are gifted and trained to minister, where the church is responsive to the needs of people and where the clear message of salvation and freedom from sin by the power of Jesus Christ is taught and preached.
History of the Free Methodist Church
Free Methodists trace our roots to an18th-century English spiritual revival led by John Wesley. The poor people who came to Christ and became a part of the church were labeled "Methodists" for the methods Wesley used to help them grow in Christlikeness -- daily prayer, meeting in small accountability groups, studying the Bible, seeking to be holy, and serving the poor. Whereas 18th-century France had a bloody revolution, England had a spiritual revival that resulted in reform of prisons, child labor and crime laws, and more. The Methodists also became effective in fanning the flame of vibrant Christian faith on America's rugged frontier.
The "Free" Methodist Church emerged out of a burning desire among some 19th-century Methodists to stay true to the principles of the Wesleyan revival. Led by Benjamin Titus Roberts (photo right), these Methodists believed in a strong emphasis on the Biblical call to live a holy life and to serve the poor. At at time in which church buildings were being supported by wealthy church-goers who bought and reserved their own pews to sit in (thus relegating the poor to the back of the church or out completely), these Methodists advocated for "free" churches. They also opposed slavery, advocating for freedom for all people. In addition, they wanted the church to be "free" from formalism in its worship.
When it became clear to these Methodists that the Methodist Church at that time was not going to embrace these freedoms, and after several of their leading spokespersons were dismissed by the mother church, the Free Methodist Church began August 23, 1860 in Pekin, New York. The Free Methodists sought to maintain the heritage of original Methodism with its warm-hearted, biblical message and lifestyle.
B. T. Roberts, an outspoken and gifted Methodist pastor, became the first Bishop of the Free Methodist Church. Roberts led the Free Methodist Church to grow into a flourishing connection of local congregations committed to proclaiming (1) freedom from sin through the grace and power of Jesus Christ, (2) freedom for all persons by advocating for just laws, (3) freedom in worship, and (4) free pews symbolizing for open access to--and signaling God's preference for--the poorest of the poor.